The Importance of national food production for food security

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

CONFIDENTE newspaper published an article on 2 April wherein I wrote that, despite the danger of Covid-19, Namibia cannot afford to close her borders with South Africa without committing economic suicide. That is so because of Namibia’s dependence on South Africa for food security.

This article shall centre on the importance of food production for food security. For comparative analysis, I shall briefly touch on how Namibia has been doing in 30 years of independence and how successful nations have dealt with food production for food security.

Namibia has just celebrated her 30th anniversary of independence and yet we are not self-reliant and self-sufficient in terms of food production. From a military viewpoint, the successful generals are those who have spent their time pondering the question: “what if?” The following are some fundamental questions that we must ask ourselves based on worst case scenarios.

What if Namibia was at war with South Africa, even though I know it will not happen? What if South Africa runs out of food surpluses for export? What if South Africa completely closes her border? What if Covid-19 lasts for 12 months? What is Namibia’s future agricultural fall back strategy with regard to food security should South Africa at one time no longer be a pillar to lean on?

Namibia has its farming history where blacks predominantly have been farming in communal areas while whites operated on commercial farmlands. From a communal perspective, some communal farmers have been and continue to farm traditionally without government assistance, which resulted in limited agricultural surpluses for market.

Before independence, those who farmed commercially were successful because they were assisted by the Land Bank Act No. 13 of 1944. It is unimaginable for one to buy farmland covering thousands of hectares, fencing off outer boundaries, demarcate the farm into camps, drilling boreholes, build a house, stock the farm with animals and/or buy implements for crop production without the government’s helping hand.

Under the same Act, Section 24, the conditions and period of payment of advances was forty years with the terms of loans very flexible. The accrued interests were also determined by the board and that was a cushion that helped to reduce pressure from farmers. Hence they succeeded.

In contrast, the operational conditions of the Agricultural Bank of Namibia Act 5 are rigid and unbearable, putting pressure on farmers regardless of conditions that they may face them. Agribank’s interest rate can be equated to that of commercial banks, as it is just a commercial bank in disguise. Its interest rate created deterrence challenges to upcoming farmers.

Those multiple challenges manifest in different forms. First, one may get commercial farmland, yet may not be able to stock the farm with livestock or secure equipment and implements for crop production.

Second, farmland prices are exorbitant, resulting in colossal financial burdens as prices are left in the hands of sellers. Third, Agribank interest is unbearable and skyrocketing as it is set without any government control.

Fourth, there are no subsidies for upcoming and formerly disadvantaged farmers. Fifth, most of the farm grazing spaces are taken up by bush encroachment without any means to fight them.

Sixth, regardless of difficulties that farmers may face, like severe droughts wherein farmers would lose their animals, instead of writing off arrears for that period, Agribank will defer payments for a later date.

Suffice to conclude that, there will be no food security in Namibia as long as farming is left in the hands of farmers without any subsidy or affordable loans. Dedicated government subsidies and affordable loans are the enabling strategies for those who are interested in buying and farming commercially, without which food production for food security will remain a nightmare.

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Generally, livelihood is about dependency, independence and interdependence, more so because of globalisation.

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Nevertheless, agriculture as one of the national powers is so critical that it cannot be left to other nations to depend on, like we depend on South Africa. As a national power, food production for food security is a prerequisite that every nation must pay the price regardless of the cost.

A nation that depends on other nations for food security will be vulnerable to external manipulation and control to the extent that its sovereignty will be compromised and demeaned. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency on food production for food security must be understood as a process aimed at securing food subsistence on which we all live and survive.

In light of the above, all nation-states have the responsibility to feed themselves. Nations that have guaranteed their people food security have the flexibility of shifting their national goals and priorities to other developmental sectors. Simply put, nations that are well-off in food security are the leaders of the hungry nations.

Nations that feed other nations are inevitably powerful, influential and control those who subsist on spoon-feeding. The above statements may sound hypothetical, as they are not empirically tested. But they do not need to be empirically tested to be true. Food security is no doubt an instrument of national power.

In order for a nation to ensure its sovereignty, it must free itself from food insecurity by way of identifying its main sources of food, set measurable and quantifiable food stock levels and by financing its agriculture sector. It is, therefore, imperative that a nation puts in place deliberate agriculture strategies to aggressively unleashing its full potentiality in financing food production.

Food production for food security is a nerve centre that must be protected from all kind of threats as they are the fulcra on which the survival of nation-states rest. It is critical that food production for food security of every nation not be left in the hands of farmers alone. Food production for food security must be nationally driven, properly coordinated and financially supported.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. Views expressed here are that of an author.